Mobility in 2030

Science topics November 2013 EnergyMaterials and structures

"The energy transition must not interfere with the mobility needs of all"

The socioeconomist Marie-Hélène Massot, the deputy head of Laboratoire Ville, Mobilité, Transport at the Ecole des Ponts - Paris Tech maintains that energy constraints can be met without sacrificing personal mobility. 


What issues does the energy transition raise for mobility?

Marie-Hélène Massot : The main goal is to reduce the overwhelming dependency of transport on oil, whose price will continue to rise. Transport now consumes more than twice the percentage of France’s total oil consumption that it did in 1973, while emissions from the sector have remained almost stable in spite of the increase in the size of the vehicle fleet – under the pressure of standards, manufacturers are modifying their engines. In addition, alternatives to oil exist (second generation biofuels, electric cars or 2- or 3- wheelers, even though they are still expensive or in need of further development). The most important issue facing the transport sector is reducing energy vulnerability.


What do you mean by “energy vulnerability”?

M.-H. M. : It’s the vulnerability of households that depend on the car, therefore oil, to travel to work in particular. Their constantly rising transport budget is forcing some of them to stop heating their homes in order to keep their job, and others to stop travelling. The problem mainly affects low-income households who live in areas with low population densities. Because of urban sprawl, almost 65% of daily travel is in the outskirts of urban centres, and most of it is by car. These transport flows are increasing rapidly, but public transport policies mainly focus on city centres and the suburbs.


Is anything being done about this vulnerability?

M.-H. M. : Very little, and what is being done is not very helpful, as the problem is not well known. Moreover, it is very difficult to define a standard for local mobility. However, as a legal right to transport was introduced in 1982, we need to be able to assess the right to travel as it determines the right to housing, work and health… We are working on this with the Observatoire National de la Précarité Energétique (National Commission on Energy Poverty), which was set up in 2011, and Transdev in order to come up with solutions. The possibilities are numerous (self-service bicycles, hitchhiking services, carsharing, carpooling, etc.) which are often organized by associations. However, none of them can compete with the private car, which is the most flexible transport system for most people for local transport.


What are the possible large-scale solutions?

M.-H. M. : These are above all political and they must take a comprehensive approach. This will require tax harmonization at the European level in order to encourage cleaner vehicles, together with socially supportive pricing policies. We must stop adding to urban sprawl by under-charging for public transport (30% less than its real cost in France) or by creating transport links that are too expensive in relation to the demand. Urban planning, in particular as regards social housing, must be compatible with transport. In addition, we must stop idealizing dense cities, which exist nowhere and nobody is enthusiastic about.


Are there any experiments we can draw on?

Yes, based on mobility services and solidarity. There are some larger scale experiments too, for example the city of Vannes has increased its transport services and reduced its costs by organizing its public transport network into a hierarchy and pooling resources, for example to allow the elderly to use school buses. Changes will be slow, but they are possible.



  • Mobilité urbaine, Territoires et nouveaux biomes, date et Mobilité, une contrainte énergétique exigeante mais surmontable, Revue Tech 216 (numéro spécial Quelle mobilité en 2030 ? ), 2012.